A FORUM on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on Friday highlighted opportunities and downplayed perceived risks in the Philippines’ participation in the scheme.

“Some China-funded infrastructure projects have already started in the Philippines,” Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former president and speaker of the House of Representatives, said in her keynote address during the forum at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila in Pasay City.

Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative comes at a time of closer ties between China and the Philippines, which hopes to ride opportunities presented by the regional giant’s relatively robust, though slowing economy.

“The main thing to focus now is on the implementation side and I am confident that the Philippines continues to exert greater and greater effort to remove on-the-ground bottlenecks that impede areas the implementations of projects.”

Ms. Arroyo particularly cited opportunities for the Philippines from China’s cheap funds and advanced technology.

According to Tan Qingsheng, minister counselor at China’s embassy in the Philippines, his country has provided around $400 million in grants and $273 million in soft loans to for infrastructure development in the Philippines.

Mr. Tan also disputed concerns about the “China debt trap”, saying: “The guiding principle of the BRI is consultation and cooperation for shared benefits.”

“All the cooperation projects are not ‘imposed on anyone’ or designed to ‘frame’ any other country,” he said.

“The so called ‘China debt trap’ is completely groundless. The BRI is a ‘pie’ for everyone to share, not a ‘pitfall’ that hinders development.”

For the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), the Philippines’ alignment of projects with China’s Belt and Road Initiative has attracted more investments. “A greater number of Chinese companies investments are concentrated in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, like the Philippines,” FFCCCII President Henry Lim Bon Liong said. “We are seeing more Chinese companies and investors in the country to explore investments and projects.”

Mr. Tan also noted that more Chinese have been visiting the Philippines, numbering over 1.2 million last year from 968,000 in 2017. The numbers are expected to go up to 1.5 million Chinese tourist this year.

“In the future, not only in tourism, but also in the Chinese economy itself, there might also be areas wherein our strength in the services side can contribute to Chinese economy itself,” Ms. Arroyo said.

“China might find reason to fuel its economy and energize its society with Filipino service workers. We are starting with Filipino English language teachers this coming September.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan